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Publications > Dateline Houston > June 2003 > From the Members

Volume 42, Issue 10

June 2003

From the Members

A Logical Choice

I'm no mathematician. Far from it! I was lucky to get out of a single year of college algebra--and not on the first try. If mobsters mandated that I work with numbers to continue to breathe, I'd choose geometry.

Humble Beginnings

My focus in undergraduate school was threefold: English, journalism, and business administration. I did have a passing interest in the life sciences, excelling in plant and animal biology. And chemistry came fairly easily as well. But when it came to English, I was more passionate than a New Orleanian during Mardi Gras.

Although I respected the sciences, my propensity was for lexis. My first published piece appeared in my high school newspaper and detailed the dilemma of a missing utensil. That's right, "The Mystery of the Missing Bottom Half of the Double Boiler" was my right of passage--my entrée into the literati. Surely a candidate for , this observational essay was the impetus for encouragement from one of my English teachers for my continued literary ramblings.

The creation of inane commentaries and exposés continued throughout college. But it was here that my art became focused.

Always appreciative of science but realizing that I didn't have a snowball's chance south of the Mason-Dixon to shine in this arena, I was intrigued by the one and only technical writing class at my university. But this didn't happen immediately.

I began my soirée among the learned immediately after high school, which in my case was a mistake. Having left the fringes of the Bible Belt of North Louisiana for the debauchery of the Banana Republic, I had grown as wild and riotous as the snakes in the bayous I hunted for their skins. Barely able to concentrate past where I was going to party after class, I rapidly fell out of favor with my professors.

To show them up, I resigned after only a semester and a half and began an illustrious career of climbing telephone poles, jolting around in jittery helicopters to distant oil rigs, and drifting aimlessly on tugboats and offshore supply ships in estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico.

A Second Chance

This calling lasted only about four years before I once again applied for school and was amazingly readmitted to the ranks of academia. Only this time I had more money stashed and more perseverance reserved. Again, the technical writing class in the catalog intrigued me, but sour memories persisted of my last experience.

Although I'd been an A/B student in high school English, the college tech writing teacher actually failed me on an assignment--something about spending as much time on it as I had spent combing my then shoulder-length-plus hair. But he was wrong: I'd actually spent less time on his particular project. However, he was the only professor teaching the course the semester I wanted it.

Willing to give him another chance I enrolled, and he sensed a renewed and sincere enthusiasm within me. He was fair, and I excelled and even volunteered.

I was a documentation machine, a scribe of monumental proportions, detailing with deft the operation of a ballpoint pen and attacking other assignments with equal vigor. Years later, I was even asked to speak to his class about the vocation of technical writing. Writing rather than science, a logical choice it was.

Today's World

Today, analyzing processes, developing procedures, and editing and rewriting what those with other technical talents have developed into tomes comprehensible to operators, field staff, and laypeople has become my raison d'être.

Moreover, the entire field of technical communication is growing exponentially so much that those entering the field now have a plethora of options--from penning software user manuals to designing assembly instructions--to the purest acts of developmental writing and copyediting.

Publishing houses and medical institutions are even advertising now for technical writers, in addition to the traditional copyeditors and medical writers. Such entities are recognizing the need for a highly trained skill base for the design, development, scheduling, and archiving of software.

It's a brave new world for our field today, limited only by our own dreams and desires.

Member Spotlight

STC Houston Members Contribute to Quality Newsletter Win

In the 2002-2003 STC Newsletter Competition, the STC Quality SIG newsletter, DocQment, received a Merit award. Congratulations to STC Houston members Jeff Staples and Rosie Walker, who serve as DocQment managing editor and copy editor.

Letters to the Editor

How We Found Technical Communication (or How It Found Us)

Editor's Note: In the April 2003 issue, my column related my experience in finding a career in technical communication. Here are the responses that a few readers were generous enough to send me. Thank you--sharing your experiences makes us all richer. See also our "From the Members" section where Gary Michael Smith relates his experiences in and visions for technical communication.

Ann Blankinship

I'm writing in response to Rebecca Taylor's article in the April newsletter entitled "From the Editor: Stroll down Memory Lane." Like Rebecca, I had little sense of good writing in high school or undergraduate school at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). I majored in zoology and never considered a career in writing.

I loved learning about science and still do, but by the time I earned a B.A. in zoology in 1970, I realized that I had no interest in a career in biology or zoology.

With college graduation looming and few career opportunities seemingly available, my father, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, advised me to visit graduate schools that interested me. Shy and lacking self-confidence, I procrastinated on this advice until my father became more insistent, telling me from his own experience that graduate schools routinely counsel prospective students. Finally, I made appointments with graduate advisors at the chemistry and math departments, where I found little encouragement.

My last appointment, at the journalism department, produced far different results. The department head, Dr. Ernest Sharpe, enthusiastically told me that my science degree was the perfect background for a career in science or technical writing. I had never heard of technical writing, and neither had my father. But the next fall, I enrolled in the journalism graduate school.

After I labored over several classroom writing assignments, which I enjoyed, my major professor, Dr. DeWitt Reddick, reassured me that I belonged in the graduate school. At the time, UT offered only one technical writing course, taught by Dr. John Walter. I well remember Dr. Walter's comments after reading one of my first assignments: "You can do this work. You can get a job as a technical writer." Those words changed my life. My father, Dr. Reddick, and Dr. Sharpe are gone now, but their persistence, enthusiasm, and encouragement live on in my life's work of almost 30 years in technical writing.

Donna Marcotte

I really enjoyed your article in Dateline Houston. I had similar experience. Though I have none of that early work, I know it was hideous. I HATED, HATED writing in high school. Struggled with it. Was terrible—a B-minus writer.

Then sometime later on, after some business experience and then finally getting to college, it also "clicked" for me. I could think more clearly, knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Of course, there are some things I still have to work at. I NEVER want to write another master's thesis and won't. But most other writing is now a pleasure—something I'm good at, something I enjoy.

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